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BEIRUT (AP) — Hezbollah fighters captured a Syrian village Tuesday near the border with Lebanon after intense fighting with Islamic militants, the group's television station said, while an activist said battles are concentrating near a strategic Syrian hill.
The battles come amid reports in Lebanon that Hezbollah and the Syrian army are expected to launch an offensive against members of the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's branch in Syria, and the Islamic State group in Qalamoun.
Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, said in a televised speech late Tuesday that his group will attack militants in Qalamoun, adding that "time will tell" when the battle will become full blown. He added that there will be no formal announcement before the widely anticipated battle begins.
Nasrallah vowed that his group will continue fighting in Syria along with President Bashar Assad's forces, saying recent defeats of the Syrian army in the northwestern province of Idlib do not mean the president's opponents have won the war.
"I tell our dear people in Syria that we were with you and will continue to be by your side — no matter what the developments are," Nasrallah said. "We will be where we are supposed to be.
"This is not the battle of the Syrian people alone," Nasrallah said. Hezbollah has sent hundreds of fighters into Syria to aid Assad's forces.
Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station said earlier in the day that members of the group captured the village of Hasina on the Syrian side of the border. The station said fighting in the border areas near the Lebanese villages of Brital and Tufeil killed 12 jihadi fighters and destroyed several of their vehicles.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Hezbollah fighters entered Hasina after Nusra Front members withdrew. Abdurrahman said the fighting is concentrating near the jihadi-held Moussa Hill, a strategic mountain overlooking wide areas of Qalamoun.
The Observatory said Tuesday's fighting killed four Hezbollah fighters.
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